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#TipMeTuesday: Building a wedding timeline!

By request, I have been asked to do a blog on how to build a timeline. And friends, this may be long and winded but I hope you find it helpful!!!

A few weeks ago I shared the importance of timelines and why including buffers are crucial for your wedding photographer. You can find that blog post here. However, there is a ton that goes into building a wedding day timeline. Some people find it relatively easy, others struggle to know what to do, at what times or for how long. And that’s okay! The good news is, there isn’t a cookie cutter way to put a wedding day together.

The truth is, I had not the slightest idea why a timeline was so important at the beginning of my wedding days. After a few weddings, I started learning real quick that following a schedule was important for everyone, and that included myself as a vendor. After doing so many weddings, I feel I have a pretty good grasp on wedding flows. Each day is different and no two weddings are the same. However, there are some general guidelines that I think could help anyone who is in the timeline stages of planning.

First and foremost– I am not a wedding planner. If you have a wedding planner, you should 100% have them help you build a timeline. Not only is it because that’s part of their service, but also because they probably know a little more than I do. Secondly, you need to remember that your wedding day will go how you want it to go, and no one else can do a thing about it. Everyone is there for you!!! Your guests, family, vendors… we are all there to make your day happen. Does that mean there won’t be any delays or hiccups? Not even slightly. But, when it comes to constructing a timeline, you have total control over what occurs and in what order.

“But Jess, I don’t know how long to plan for each part!” Well, that’s why I am here!!! To give you some insight on what is the general consensus for all things wedding timeline related.

Before we get going, there are a few things to consider:

  • The time it takes to get between venues if your ceremony and reception are at two different locations
  • Where both the bride and groom will be getting ready
  • Whether or not you are electing to do a first look prior to the ceremony
  • Will you be doing a receiving line of greeting guests following the ceremony, or will you be going right to photos?
  • What will happen if you run behind schedule
  • How long your day is with each vendor
  • How long you have your venue(s) for
  • What time of day you are hosting your event
  • What traditions do you/don’t you want planned

The most important part of the timeline that needs to be nailed down runs from the ceremony to the reception. What happens before then is tentative on when you can set up the venue, who is setting up the venue, hair and makeup and your photographer (that’s me!).

Starting from the ceremony to the reception, the following is generally the flow of things:

Guests arrive, are seated → ceremony begins → ceremony ends (1) receiving line and/or move on to portrait hour (2) guests make their way to cocktail hour (3) bride and groom w/ photographer → cocktail hour → guests seated, introductions of wedding party + bride and groom → seated for dinner, speeches/prayers, eat → end of dinner → first dances → cake cutting → bouquet/garter toss → open dance floor

That is all approximate. Some things are moved around, but that is a general flow of things that I myself typically see at a wedding. If you add in certain traditions based on your religious beliefs, be sure to tell your photographer so that they are on the same page!


Hair and makeup → Check with your artists to see how long they generally recommend you carve out for each girl getting glammed up for the big day. I recommend starting 30 minutes to and one hour earlier than their suggested time, to make sure you stay on time. Sometimes, hiccups with hair-do’s can arise, and if you’re late getting hair and makeup done, it will instantly put the rest of the day behind. I’ve seen it happen a lot, so it’s better to be done and waiting, than to be waiting on one girl whose hair won’t cooperate. Trust me brides, you won’t be happy if this happens!

First look → A first look usually only takes 5 minutes, but accommodate 15 – 20 minutes into the schedule for this. You want to be prepared if either of you run late, so that we don’t have to rush the moment. That’s the whole point of a first look is to privately enjoy the moment, exchange love and maybe even a gift for one another! Some even choose to say private vows together during this time. So, I recommend buffering extra time to make sure you get that alone time. Because the rest of the day you won’t get very much!

Portrait hour → Whether this takes place before the ceremony and after the first look, or just after the ceremony, you want to plan at a bare minimum 1 hour of time for photos.

Before ceremony: Plan to get photos of your wedding party and just the bride and groom. Family can be photographed quickly following the ceremony. Trying to wrangle family prior to the ceremony is usually hectic, so I highly suggest waiting until the ceremony is over with your family positively present to get family photos done. That way, we can do those quickly and get you to cocktail hour with your guests.

After ceremony: Plan to get photos of family, the wedding party and the bride and groom. Carve out a little extra time if you have a lot of family to get photos with, or a wedding party of 5+ on each side. REMEMBER: any family members/friends that can be photographed with you during the reception is far easier than trying to wrangle them for photos before the party gets started.

Ceremony → A typical ceremony lasts approximately 10-15, however you want to accommodate at least 30 minutes in the schedule. Whatever time you list on the invitation should be the time guests should know to be seated. However, you want to plan for traffic, bad weather or general delay. So, it is recommended that if you list a 4pm ceremony time on your invitation, you not begin the wedding processional until 4:10/4:15pm.

Receiving line → For me personally, this seems a little outdated. I personally like to move right to portrait hour so that we can get what we need and let you mingle during cocktail hour to greet your guests. However, if you’re set on having a receiving line, accommodate 20 minutes in the schedule to greet guests. If you have a wedding of 150+ guests, maybe buffer in an extra 10 minutes.

Introductions → Depending on the number of people you are having introduced, this usually takes about 5-10 minutes. Introductions don’t have to be wild, but it’s also a great way to get your guests engaged and pumped for the remainder of the event.

Speeches/toasts → Again, this depends on the number of people who are chosen to speak. Usually it’s a parent or two, maid of honor and best man. However, I have seen it all!! I don’t recommend too many people speaking, because at a certain point guests get bored. That sounds awful to say, but I can’t tell you how many guests I see on Snapchat, Facebook or Instagram during Aunt Betty reminiscing on your childhood, or person # 4’s speech. Those who will be giving a toast, don’t be afraid to tell them they have a time limit. Most speeches I see are about 2-3 minutes per person.

Dances → This one you can guess how much time will be needed based on the songs you choose. But, it’s safe to say that dances are done in 10-15 minutes.

Cake cutting → This is one of the easiest parts of the night!! To cut the cake and share the slice usually only takes about 5 minutes.

Bouquet + garter toss, games, etc. → These aren’t something that need a timestamp. However, if you really want your photographer to capture certain moments you have planned, be sure to plan them prior to the end of your photographers coverage. For example, you don’t want to schedule the bouquet toss that you want photographed at 9pm, when your photographer is due to depart at 8:30pm.


The first step should be deciding what time of day your ceremony is going to be, and then figuring out if you want to have a first look or not prior to the ceremony. If you’re not sure, ask your photographer!! We will let you know the best times to have the ceremony based on if you want a first look or not. After that, think about what you want and in what order, and then go from there. There are plenty of templates you can find by doing a simple google search or hopping onto Pinterest.

Don’t put so much pressure on yourself when it comes to building the timeline for your big day! If you need help, there are at least 3 people who need to be involved:

  1. Your wedding planner/day-of coordinator/venue: These are the first people who should be on board with what you have in the works, because they are the ones who will be moving things along and making sure each part of the day transitions flawlessly. Side note: if you don’t have a wedding planner, and your venue doesn’t offer a coordinator, I HIGHLY suggest including a day-of coordinator in your budget. A separate blog will come later on on this.
  2. Your wedding photographer: I’ve already covered this, but if you haven’t picked up on it, including your photographer during the timeline planning process will always be much appreciated. We love to give our input not because we are controlling or overbearing, but because we want your wedding photos to come out stunning, and there are certain times of the day that work better over others.
  3. Your DJ/MC/band: Making sure the person providing entertainment and making announcements on your wedding is in the loop is just as crucial. Some DJ’s assist in timeline construction as well! Giving your DJ a detailed and well organized timeline will be in everyone’s favor.

Make sure your timeline is completed prior to sending out formal invitations, which should be a few months prior to the big day, and that all necessary vendors have a copy!! You don’t want to state one time on your invites, and then change your mind later on (I’ve seen it happen), and risk some people not being on the same page. Once the timeline is in place, I promise everything else will be fairly easy(ish) 🙂

xo – Jess

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